I was already in the car and heading back for Alice when she called me. I glanced at the clock and realized I’d been away longer than we’d hoped, she was probably annoyed about sitting at the church waiting for me.
“Hey hon,” I said, answering the call on speaker. “Sorry about the delay, I—”
“The priest,” she gasped. My grasp on the steering wheel tightened at the pain in her voice. “It’s the priest. He’s in the cult.”
“What happened? Are you okay?”
“I’ll make it back to the estate if you can get here soon. He didn’t want to kill me, he wanted information.”
“Where are you now?” I listened as she described the area, a place we’d walked past the night before, and where she was hiding. I promised I’d be there as soon as I could, then hung up and punched the gas. I tore across England completely oblivious to any cops, and if they saw me they apparently didn’t think it worth the effort to stop me. Maybe the Hudson name on the plates helped with that, who knows. The whole ride was spent thinking about what I was going to do to that priest, and to Michael, when I had the chance.
The car screeched to a halt when I found the alley where Alice was hiding, and she limped out of the shadows and slipped into the passenger seat. Half her shirt and a part of her pants were burned off, exposing a large burn across her side. Once she was in and I was assured she was stable, I drove to the church. She insisted it was pointless, as he surely wouldn’t be there anymore, but I was barely listening. I had to try. I couldn’t risk not checking. She stayed in the locked car, parked a block away to avoid drawing attention to her, while I went inside to check. Sure enough, the doors to the office area was locked, and I kicked them off the hinges before storming through and tearing the place apart looking for any information. I found some records and notes that looked promising, and grabbed those, but the priest was clearly gone. Once I returned to the car, I gave the papers to Alice and made for the estate.
As I was turning into the entrance of the estate, I saw a man walking with purpose, holding a notebook. Alice gasped and pressed herself back into the seat. I asked if that was the priest, and when she confirmed it was, I punched the gas again. He heard the noise of the engine, and turned just in time to see the car hit him. He was thrown off to the side, rolling over the corner of the hood, and I continued up the drive as Alice screamed. I slammed the brakes as we got to the building, set the parking brake, and jumped out without bothering to turn off the engine. The man was slowly getting to his feet, and on seeing me heading for him, he threw a fireball at me. I batted it away, hearing it fizzle out as soon as it left my hand, and neither slowed nor sped up as I approached him. His eyes grew large, and then he started to chant and I watched his form crack and shift, as his arms grew muscular and his body took on the form of a large serpent. I ripped my shirt off and tossed it aside, and we lunged at each other.
Michael wanted to send a driver with me, but I insisted I could handle it myself. I ultimately had to take a quick spin around his estate with him to prove I could adapt to driving on the other side of the road, but then he gave me use of a car and left with Benedict and Akshainie. I dropped Alice off at a church and made arrangements for me to pick her up, and then I was off.
The drive to the ritual site he’d originally found was pretty uneventful, just a pleasant drive through the British countryside and down some highway of theirs. I guess they’re probably not called interstates here, but it was basically that. I was largely operating from memory of how Michael drove us there, with an atlas on the passenger seat just in case.
I passed the security check-in with the new ID from Michael, declined an escort, and made my way down to the site. We had settled that this was a locus point, and apparently a key one for the network the Brood was using, so I was sent to shut it down. I wasn’t entirely sure about the plan; Jackie had been very adamant that while I could do things like this, it was unwise to do so, especially for any notable length of time. And I was certain Akshainie was going to flip if and when she figured out what had happened, and unlike Jackie, she’s nearby and armed and somewhat murderous.
So I had concerns.
But Michael had made it very clear that, as a designated protector of the Crown, he was prepared to fully flex his authority as our employer in this matter to see a swift and decisive conclusion to the threat of the Brood. And, really, the plan was one that seemed like it would work well. Effective in the same way dropping a nuke on a city was bound to clear up a rat problem at one of the local restaurants, sure, but effective. It feels irresponsible, what I’ve heard of loci suggests that there will be a ton of side effects from blocking one for even a short time, but he wouldn’t hear it.
I walked to the center of the locus and sat down with my legs crossed, rested my palms on the floor in front of me, and closed my eyes. It was difficult enough last night trying to hold back the flow of energy along a ley line, this was going to be a hell of a thing to pull off. I focused on pressing down, exerting my will against the magical energy accumulating and passing beneath me, and could feel the tension as it pushed back. I pushed, and pushed, and soon felt almost weightless. Like the whole world had fallen away, and I was just suspended in the energy, which was trying to press in on me from every side. I was no longer pushing down, but out, trying to expand the area in which magic was stifled, fighting against a pressure that wanted to crush me. I felt it start to give, and I screamed as I made one last shove with all my will, and I felt the energy crack around me. The pressure exploded off me, and I felt gravity return, and opened my eyes just in time to see the ground rush back up to me. I rolled onto my back, holding my knee and swearing, until I started to feel a little better. I lit a cigarette and stared at the ceiling until it was gone, and felt nothing. There was no active energy in the locus anymore. Satisfied the task was done, I made my way back to the car and left to pick up Alice.
15 February 2007
We were all called to breakfast, and after we’d eaten Michael had Benedict, Akshainie, Alice, and me stay behind and sent the staff out. Once we were alone, he stood and addressed us.
“They’re after the Church of England,” he announced. None of us visibly reacted to that and I got the impression he was a bit surprised at that. There was a moment of silence where he seemed to be processing it.
“So you got them to talk?” I asked. “How’d you do that?”
“Runic circle of truth.”
“That’s awfully convenient.”
“What did you learn about their plan?” Akshainie asked.
“Sadly, very little. They are waiting for a signal and are getting into position to attack both the crown and Canterbury.”
“So first step is to get more information,” Benedict said, rising from his seat. “If you could show me the way to this circle of truth—”
“The cultists are dead,” Michael said, flatly. Benedict stopped, then leaned forward with his palms on the table.
“I must request a bit more information on that one.”
“It appears to have been a defense against interrogation. Not unlike a poison pill, but in this case, a self-immolation spell.”
“Self-immolation,” I said, leaning back and crossing my arms.
“We can discuss the matter more later. For now, we have a lot of work to do, and I think it would be best if we focused on that.” Michael looked around to each of us, and we grudgingly agreed. Michael produced identity cards he had made for each of us so we could split up and still operate with the authority of the estate, and included one for Alice. She was hesitant, but Michael reminded her that she had expressed a desire to get involved and that they needed someone who didn’t stand out as magical to check on a nearby church. He handed out assignments to each of us, and within the hour we were all on our way.
Once Alice told me the others were done inside, I released the pressure I was putting on the ley line and stepped aside. I was asked not to enter, and feeling pretty drained from the effort anyway, so I sat down on a large stone outside and smoked a cigarette while I waited. Eventually, Benedict, Akshainie, and Alice emerged from the house.
“Where’s everyone else?” I asked, flicking my smoke into the street and standing.
“Michael has taken the cultists in for questioning,” Benedict answered. He had a set of keys in his hand. “I’ll be driving us back to the estate. Would you two care for a ride?”
“Yes, please,” Alice answered. She looked a bit shaken, and I touched her arm to get her attention and give her a concerned look. She gave me a weak smile, shook her head, and made for the car. I followed. We took the back seat and let Akshainie ride up front with Benedict, and no one said much until we’d been driving for a couple minutes. Alice squeezed my hand a bit.
“Are you okay?” I asked. “What happened in there?”
“He took them to a secret dungeon under the estate through a magical door,” she said, softly. Then, louder and to the whole car, “Does that bother anyone else? That he can just…do that?”
“Wait he did what?” I demanded. Akshainie shrugged.
“I don’t see what else you expect him to do with them,” she said, turning to look at Alice and me.
“The police wouldn’t be able to handle them properly, and I’m not sure they actually broke any laws anyway,” Benedict said.
“That’s worse! Please tell me you see how that isn’t better!” Alice cried.
“It sounds an awful lot like kidnapping when you say it like that,” I said.
“I don’t trust the Hudson any more than you do, but this is the Brood of Nachash we’re talking about!” Akshainie was starting to sound tense.
“Okay but what about when it isn’t?” I asked. Alice pointed at me and nodded as I continued, “Is this just a thing they do? Take people whenever they feel justified about it? Do the people they take have any rights, is there any due process for people who deal with the supernatural? Isn’t that concerning to literally everyone in this car?” Akshainie turned back around and Alice leaned her head on my shoulder. There was silence in the car the rest of the way back.
The blog of John Matteson.